Also, this arc is very long, lol.
Like all bureaucrats and ‘important’ people like to do, Anselm and I were kept waiting outside the doors Mathilda, the right-hand of the Mayor snuck into.
Our ever-friendly guard eventually left our side as he had a job to do, but not before snatching an apple and regaling me of the many good deeds this all-star Mayor has got about to since taking office.
Idly I proposed that she was a Noble of sorts and the cherry man confirmed my suspicions with a resounding ‘of course’. He held in his mind that none other than a Noble could be so God-sent to save him and many others from despair. He held this believe despite the previous owner of the title also being a Noble and a complete tool.
There were several things that led to my acute deduction of the Mayor’s status. One was that the Town hall was run more like a home or a mansion perhaps. I didn’t see any of the other village representative that are supposed to counsel and check the Mayor as they ruled, instead all that was in the massive Hall was a dinner table, a beautiful rug and walls covered with art portraying battlefields.
Where Anselm and I sat waiting there was even less of what I’d expect from an actual village Town Hall. There’s just a nice, quiet waiting area outside the doors. There was the occasional person to scutter around doing one thing or another but they were mostly all servants or guards. The entire place looked restructured, expanded for her personal tastes and use.
I’m starting to think that all Noble rulers behave this way. Turned the public utilities and laws into tools for their own comforts and all in the name of their birth right, their divine right to rule and some other made up bullshit.
Quite frankly though, I didn’t mind it one bit. Not any of it really. They were all just examples of how much power made a difference in everything, it’s just more reason why I need to get some power of my own. How to handle said power? Well I’ve been looking in from the outside long enough to know what not to do.
“What’s your plan with this place?”
Anselm’s voice breaks through my contemplation. My plan? Well, I hadn’t entirely figured it out yet but it ended with me killing a cultist and getting the promised power from Lotar. How to start should be figured out from speaking with the Mayor.
“I’ll speak to the Mayor. She is likely the strongest Mage in this entire place, that’s if there are any other Mages. I need to know what the Cult is like, it’s them we care about.”
“What makes you think we can handle the Cult if the Mayor can’t?” he challenges.
“You’re right. There’s little chance that we’d able to survive much less win.”
“So, we get help. Killing the Cultists doesn’t just help us, it helps Carbina too. I’m not risking my neck for free and definitely all on my own.”
“Combined forces? Well maybe. But what if this Mayor hates your guts for being a vile Necromancer too.”
I snort at this. “That’s also possible. But if I’m successful and we go in after the Cult together, I’ll get to see her fight, I’ll study her. And best part? I’ll be a lot stronger when we come out. So, if there’s anything we want to hash out, I’ll have an ace up my sleeve.”
“You’re really putting a lot of faith into this mystical fox.”
“Lotar’s a wolf and you know that. Besides, look around. I think this Mayor is particularly occupied making her riches to bother chasing after a supposed Necromancer.” I smack my forehead, “Also, I’m just realizing, you’re the only spirit I can summon to fight. And you’ve been physical all this time, know one has to know you’re a spirit. Necromancer problem, solved.”
I laugh and pat myself on the back for my genius while Anselm groans. We end up waiting a bit more before the door finally swings open with Matilda standing in the doorway looking a bit more dishevelled than she did when she went in.
“Well, come in.” she breathes, “The Mayor will see you now.”
She stands in the doorway and prompts us in. Anselm and I share a look but we’re prepared. I do the talking; he does the nodding and is sure to corroborate however he can.
Stepping into the office or would it be called a chamber? I’m not sure of the nomenclature but the place is organized. As expected of a woman, they always seem to have things tidied up. Well, every where else apart for her immediate work area is tidied up; there are papers, cups and plates all stacked about each other with no exact order.
At the sides of the room there’s a shelf with books, a mini library of sorts. There’s the same velvet red rug that continues from the outside in and there are very comfy looking couch cushions with furs just as luxurious, perhaps even more so than those on the carpet.
But none of that is important in the room. None is more important that the auburn-haired woman seated with her hair tied up in a long, double rowed bun. Her fiery hair is ever more enhanced by the depth of her brown eyes and the thin smile placed on her lips as she stands to greet and welcome us.
A spitting image of power the large battle-ready portrait behind her.
“Welcome to my domain, Carbina.” She smiles, “I am Leriva of House Carbina.”
Her family literally owns the place I see.
“I’m Asher Taserman and this is my companion, Anselm.” I say, trying without trying to sound dignified.
Her smile widens, “Matilda did mention you were some sort of a Noble, are you?” her eyes seem to narrow at the question, like how she would treat me depended entirely on the answer.
“Hm, well, wouldn’t you like to know.”
She bursts out laugh a hearty laugh. Looking very cute as she tries to hide her face.
“Ah,” she sighs, “She said that was your response to her as well. Please sit, there’s a lot we must discuss.”
Anselm and I take a seat on the two wooden chairs with minimal cushion on the back and top of the chair itself, careful not to topple any of her stacks.
“Oh, silly me! Please forgive me for the egregious mess. I don’t take a lot of visitors in here and especially not as of late given people have been disappearing on the roads.”
“Right, about that…”
“Yes, about that.” She says, cutting me off. “It seems the Following finally received my many many letters asking for assistance here.”
“Well, I don’t think they have. As I have tried to mention repeatedly, we are not members of the Following.”
“Not members of the Following?” she repeats, her eyes narrowing dangerously, “So who are you and how did you manage to survive travelling the roads?”
“I’m an independent hunter. For now, we are exclusively hunting Cult of Phien members and we happened upon here, not expecting to find any, but fortunate enough to find an epidemic.”
She heaves a sigh and massages her temples. “So, you’re a strong enough mage to leave this place. What rank are you?”
“We have no rank and we weren’t attacked. Part of the reason we are seated here having this discussion and not hunting Cultists is that we do not know their strength, whereas as Mayor, you ought to.”
She blinks, shaking her head a bit, “How weren’t you attacked? The roads are overtured with them. At night, in the morn or noon. It doesn’t matter to them; they’ll come in many forms and take you. How did you get here?”
The more the question comes up the more I wondered about it myself. I know well enough that I’m not overly strong, and I couldn’t be known enough to have people avoid me. So, the question stands, valid and unanswered.
“I’m just lucky I guess.” I smile.
She doesn’t look a bit satisfied with my response but she backs down. “It doesn’t matter; besides, I think I have an idea of how you made it here.” I wonder what that is. “Let’s get back on track, shall we?”
“So, the Cult. What are they like in battle?”
“They don’t fight fair that’s for sure; they all seem to share the same magical abilities. It’s like fighting an army all by yourself.” She lifts her head up, exposing an area of her neck where there’s an ugly scar running down through it, “I got this from trying to exterminate just one of the five camps.”
“Must have been some battle. Any back up?”
She sighs, “Unfortunately, this is a village, we can really only afford a single Mage, and that Mage often gets to be the Mayor, yours truly.” She sticks her thumbs to herself, exasperated. “Ever since the Cult started popping up around us five years ago, I tried combatting their growing number with little success. That’s why this last year I’ve used up all our resources to fortify the village. I won’t let the Cult swallow this place up.”
“You think that’s their goal? To take over Carbina?”
“They started with a single camp. They captured, killed or initiated travellers on the road. They spread to five camps in the span of five years despite my continued interference and they have placed all five in strategic places to isolate and consume the entirety of Carbina. It’s no question that they want us.”
“I’ve had an encounter with a village consumed by the Cult. They just idled away doing nothing but worship this totem, perhaps to their god. There was a single man, immensely powerful, or perhaps I was just weak. The Following appeared soon after and exterminated them all, saving me in the process.”
“Is that what led you to hunting the Cult? The following saving you?”
I snort. “Not at all. If I that were the case, I would have joined the Following instead of becoming independent. There’s just a certain aspect of wonder to their activities, that, and I just really need to kill them.”
She regards me with a wry smile but soon stands. I stand with her. “Either way my dear, possible Noble. Our interests align, I believe you will help me in exterminating them, beware, they are many in number.”
“I expect to be outnumbered, but I expect with someone of your capabilities, we will undoubtedly triumph over each of the five.”
She tilts her head and grins widely, “I’m glad to hear you say that. When you head outside Matilda will provide you and your companion with accommodations, food and whatever you like that we can provide. We will discuss the best camp to attack this night, after my scouts come back with reports.”
She showed us out the door and called for Matilda. Up close, standing shoulder to shoulder, she seems like a really strong person. I wondered what rank she is but I didn’t ask, it felt like a rude question really.
Still, our conversation has been entirely enlightening to the Cult. They value numbers and a lot of them. I wonder why.